Spring of 2000
And just like that, my whole world is burning. What’s left will look like a pile of ash before this is over with. The man I will love forever, is plunging headlong into a new life, with the last woman in this town he should be with. Me? I’m pregnant – making decisions about my future – and this baby – without the one person I need more than my very breath.
Fall of 1999
I’m always late. I’ve come to accept that it’s part of me. I can’t shake it. I don’t even try anymore. I mean, not for work and stuff. Just, you know – literally everything else. On the first day of classes, I made a half-hearted promise to my mom that I’d be on time, maybe even early.
But I’m not early by any stretch of the imagination. I reach for the door handle and prepare myself for the slow turn of everyone in the room and the disdain of the instructor. I mean, I’m just 15 minutes late – it’s not that bad. Right? Mom tells me I’m late because I don’t care about other people’s time and feelings. It always stings when she says this – in her Spanglish – chastising me in that way she does, her hand and arm going up in a sweeping motion above her head. It’s the universal sign of her utter disgust with her children. She usually does it as she makes a dramatic pronouncement that we’re like our father and then she storms off. I love being like my sweet daddy, so I usually ignore her. The door creaks as I open it – because of course it does. Half of the room turns in my direction. As if in slow motion, my instructor turns too. In Spanish, I rattle off an excuse, “Tuve problemas con el coche, lo siento mucho.” I say, employing what I like to call that Mexican, factor.
Unexpectedly, my Biology instructor laughs. “Sit down,” he says. “And we speak English in this class.”
“Yes, sir,” I say, not even trying to hide the southern accent that plagues me, to my mom’s feigned horror. My eyes dart around the room looking for a seat. My only option is next to a dude that doesn’t appear to be super pumped about sitting with me. Which makes me super pumped to sit next to him. “Is this seat taken?” I ask.
“Unfortunately, it’s not,” he says.
“Straight to the hostility. Nice. So glad to meet you, Grumpy McGrumperston. My name is Carolina Langston – but you can call me Birdie,” I say, emphasizing the Spanish pronunciation of Carolina – hoping it adds to the tension. I stick out my hand. He accepts the hand shake. Hmm, not a bad handshake, I think.
“Cade,” he says. And then quickly adds, “Could you possibly not talk while Mr. Green talks?”
“Oh. Yeah, sure. If that’s how you learn,” I say sarcastically – as if I was going to talk the whole time. Cade rolls his eyes and shakes his head. He’s already sick of me and I just walked in. Clearly this class will be more fun than I thought.
“Would you just sit down and be quiet? I literally have no patience for this,” he says commanding me to sit down.
“Sure, dude. Whatever,” I say.
In case you’re wondering how the rest of the class went, Cade the Grumpy Pants is my new bio partner. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to love me. I may have to bribe him, but by the end of this class, I shall win. Not that I care what Cade Frowny Man actually thinks – but I have a reputation to uphold in this town. I can’t have anyone ruining that. I’m a damn delight. He’ll figure it out eventually.
“Well look who decided to show up?” Cade asks, as if he’s surprised, I’m late for our study session. By the way, this is my second time taking Biology. He’s now moved on and I’m taking it again. He checks his watch, as if he has some duty to monitor when I do or don’t show up. It has been like this from the beginning. I think it’s a Marine thing.
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “I had a thing.”
“Liar. Your thing was watching the news with a glass of wine while I sat here wondering when you’d show your face.”
“Never mind. You gonna sit down or just stand there staring at me?” he asks me. If I answered the way I want to, I’d tell him that staring at him is among my favorite things in all the world. It’s right up there with my Grandma’s hot chocolate and the way the fog rolls over the mountains at home. I sit down and start unpacking my backpack. We’re on the floor of his apartment, studying for finals – sitting at his coffee table – as close as possible without actually touching. I hate Biology. He loved it. I’m an artist. He’s all about the facts and logic. He understands complex formulas about literally everything under the sun. He’s the smartest person I know. He’s also the first person I want to talk to when I wake up and the last before I go to bed. And he usually is. Unless he’s training. In the few months we shared a class and a table in Biology, he became as elemental to me as the air I breathe. And now that we no longer share a class, we remain inseparable. When he’s not at work, we are together. It’s a guarantee. I’m at his apartment – or he’s at mine. Or we’re at the beach, hiking the Croatan, or eating something that we probably shouldn’t. I didn’t know something like this could happen in real life, though I’d dream of it. I’ve read about it in my favorite novels. And I’ve watched it on the movie screen. I’ve heard it sung about. But my reality loving mother likes to remind me none of that is real life. With a string of near boyfriends, bad dates, and a terrible high school romance, I started wondering if I’d ever find this dream. Pretty sure I found him in Cade. We are best friends. But somewhere about a month ago, I realized that I’ve never loved or adored any person more than him.
If I had to pick the one person in all the world that I’d experience the greatest joys, deepest pain, and the everyday nothing with – it would be him. I wanted to find “the one.” I just didn’t know I would find him this early in life. It’s just a happy thing that found me when I wasn’t looking. Isn’t that what they call serendipity? I mean, we’re not a couple. But we will be. Everyone already thinks we are. I know he feels the same. It’s hard not to know. It’s written all over his face and in every sweet thing he does for me. “You in there?” he asks, elbowing me.
“Yeah, sorry. What did you say?”
“I asked if you wanted me to order pizza. Or I could go pick up some tacos from El Cerro.”
“Why don’t we go get tacos at El Cerro? We deserve a break.”
“We just started. We have a lot to accomplish,” Cade said, sounding like the overly conscientious pain in my rear, he is.
“So? We’ve got all weekend,” I say, smiling. Waiting for that beautiful smile of his to spread across his face.
“Your only argument, is ‘so’?”
“No. My argument is that we have all weekend. Let’s go get tacos.”
“Like I can say no to you,” he says, starting to get up. And just like that, we leave the studying for another time. Sometimes being a bad influence is a good thing.
In the back of Cade’s truck, propped up against our jackets, balled up like pillows, we scarf down more tacos than either of us have the business eating – sharing Tapatio and a napkin between us. El Cerro is the only place in a three-county area that has real Mexican food. Besides home that is. And I can’t bring Cade home. So, El Cerro in the bed of his truck, it is. He backed the truck into the perfect spot along the boardwalk in Atlantic Beach. It’s cold. Or would be, if the hot sauce wasn’t working. We are like two fat-kid foodies, grease dripping down our hands, eating like it’s our last meal. “Good call,” Cade says, wiping his mouth with our now nearly worthless, shared napkin.
“I told you so.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he says, in reply. “You’re always right. Isn’t that how it goes?”
“I mean, I’m wrong sometimes. But there are just some things I don’t get wrong. Ever. One is Mexican food. And the other is who to eat it with. Or study biology with.”
“What do you want?” Cade asks, deadpanning.
“Not a thing. Just enjoying my company.” I look over at him and he’s smiling. Not that I’m surprised. He does this a lot when we are together. I smile too. He makes me happier than I’ve ever been. I fumble in my bag for hand sanitizer and squirt a glob into his outstretched hand. We clean off our hands as best we can. Meanwhile, I decide it’s now or never. After he’s done cleaning his hands, I scoot a little closer, not that there’s much space between us as it is. I slip my arm through his. “It’s cold,” I say.
“Not sure that’d help,” he says. And I wonder if I’ve already blown it. “Here,” he lifts his arm and puts it around me. I lean in – my head on his chest.
Well that was easier than I thought. My hand is on his chest. His heart is beating a mile a minute. “Cade?” I ask.
“Yes?” I hear his smile. “What’s up?”
“If you didn’t work for my dad, do you think there would have been a chance for us?”
“There isn’t?” He asks. “A chance for us?”
“I guess if we took my parents at their word, there’s not. Not that I listen to them half the time. We’re both adults. But that whole boss thing is throwing me.”
“That’s not really the best-case scenario for making this work. But since we’ve never talked about this and you just throw it out there apropos of nothing, you do understand the predicament I’m in here, right? There’s no denying what’s between us, right? It’s pretty obvious. I think a blind man could pick up on the chemistry. It might as well be a literal, physical thing that follows us around.”
“I wish we’d talked about this sooner.” I say. “But since you think this came up out of nowhere, I thought maybe you should know that I’ve been rehearsing and preparing for this moment, for as long as I’ve known you.”
“Really?” he asks. I’m half surprised, he’s surprised.
“Oh yeah. From the moment we met.”
“I wasn’t very nice when we met.”
“This is true. But I kind of got a kick out of how skeptical you were.”
“Weird. You’re weird.”
“Agreed. Not a point of debate. I’m weird. And you love it. So where do we go from here?”
“I guess we don’t go anywhere. I have a boss who has made very clear that you are off limits. You’re my best friend. Probably the best friend I’ve ever head. Your parents want it to stay there. And normally, being 20 years old is certainly old enough for both of us to do whatever we want, regardless of what our parents think. But your dad, Bird – your dad is not someone I’m willing to trifle with. He could make my life a living hell. And I can’t ignore that. It would make life extremely difficult for both of us – doesn’t matter that we’re both consenting adults.”
Trifled with. Funny how two words remind me of everything I love about this man. He’s so smart. He uses the most old-fashioned words and phrases at times. But he isn’t very old-fashioned. Just book smart. And the book smart comes out of his mouth at the cutest times. “Okay,” I say, not even remotely okay or done with this topic.
“That’s it?” he says, as I turn and face him, my head no longer on his chest. My knee rests on his thigh as I pick at the lining of my jacket.
“No. Or yes. I don’t know. I just know it’s not right to let my parents dictate our lives and futures. Not when the man I love is finally sitting in front of me.” I refuse to look at him. Waiting and hoping he’ll say everything I’ve been longing for him to say.
Cade scoots a little closer to me and lifts my chin with his index finger. “I love you, too,” he says, first kissing my forehead, then quickly kissing me on the lips – just a peck at first. And then the floodgates open. It has been building for months. His kiss melts me. When we finally pull away from each other, I know the decision is made. There’s no way around it. The future – my future, is inextricably tied to Kincade’s. I know this to be as true as my own name. There isn’t a single thing in this world that will stand in the way of this love.
I would love to hear your feedback. Would this make you want to read more? Or do you think prologues get in the way? To make commenting easier, I’ve changed comment requirements. Hope to hear from you